Skip to main content

Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

See other formats


N" OF MATHEMATICS
mineralogical collection, representative of the whole of Russia,
was put in order and constantly enriched.
Even the new dignity of his rectorship did not deter Lobat-
chewsky from manual labour in the library and museum when
he felt that his help was necessary. The "University was his life
and he loved it. On the slightest provocation he would take off
his collar and coat and go to work. Once a distinguished
foreigner, taking the coatless Rector for a janitor or workman,
asked to be shown through the libraries and museum collec-
tions. Lobatchewsky showed him the choicest treasures,
explaining as he exhibited. The visitor was charmed and greatly
impressed by the superior intelligence and courtesy of this
obliging Russian worker. On parting from his guide he tendered
a handsome tip. Lobatchewsky, to the foreigner's bewilder-
ment, froze up in a cold rage and indignantly spurned the
proffered coin. Thinking it but just one more eccentricity of the
high-minded Russian janitor, the visitor bowed and pocketed
his money. That evening he and Lobatchewsky met at the
Governor's dinner table, where apologies were offered and
accepted on both sides.
Lobatchewsky was a strong believer in the philosophy that
in order to get a thing done to your own Hkfag you must either
do it yourself or understand enough about its execution to be
able to criticize the work of another intelligently and construc-
tively. As has been said, the University was his life. When the
Government decided to modernize the buildings and add new
ones, Lobatchewsky made it his business to see that the work
was done properly and the appropriation not squandered. To
fit himself for this task he learned architecture. So practical was
his mastery of the subject that the buildings were not only
handsome and suited for their purposes but, what must be
almost unique in the history of governmental building, were
constructed for less money than had been appropriated. Some
years later (in 1842) a disastrous fire destroyed half Kazan and
took with it Lobatchewsky's finest buildings, including the
barely completed observatory -the pride of his heart. But owing
to his energetic cool-headedness the instruments and the
library were saved. After the fire he set to work immediately to